96 Biography

 

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He went to Harvard where he studied Greek, Latin and German, graduating in 1837. After graduating, Thoreau found a job as a teacher, but soon was aware it wasn’t for him. He worked for his father for a short stint before opening a school with his brother, John. They ran the school together for three years, until John fell ill. While at Harvard, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson. Together they delved into Transcendentalism. This began his path towards becoming a poet and writer. While on a canoeing trip with John, he confirmed to himself that he should pursue poet and a literary career and end his time as a teacher/schoolmaster. July 1840, Emerson, Thoreau and other Transcendentalists started a magazine called The Dial. They published many of Thoreau’s works until the end of it’s publication in 1844. During this period Thoreau proposed to a woman by the name of Ellen Sewall, who accept then promptly broke off the engagement because of her parents.

Thoreau moved to New York to try to break into the literature scene there, but soon confirmed that city life wasn’t for him. In 1845 at the age of 27, Thoreau built a home by Walden Pond on land owned by Emerson. He spent his most of his time tending his garden, fishing and finding other wild fruits and vegetables.  His stay there lead to one of his greatest works, Walden; a collection of 18 essays on his experience at Walden Pond. During Thoreau’s stay he refused to pay his poll taxes and spent a night in jail, because he refused to support “a government that endorsed slavery and waged an imperialist war against Mexico.” After this run-in with the law Thoreau began work on another of his most popular pieces “Civil Disobedience”, inspired by his abolitionist views as well as his disagreement with the Mexican-American War. “Civil Disobedience” didn’t gain popularity until the 20th century during the civil rights movements. As his career slowed, Thoreau began to take over the family business, while still making time to put out some works such as “Cape Cod” in 1855. He started to fall farther out of the Transcendentalist movement and became increasingly involve in the abolition, even doing what he could to help on the Underground Railroad. He continued to write pieces speaking out against the inhumane practice of slavery, highlighted by “Slavery in Massachusetts.” John Brown, a fiery abolitionist, became his new father figure until Brown’s death by hanging after a failed raid on Harper’s Ferry. Eventually, Thoreau passed due to tuberculosis on May 6, 1862.

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Biography by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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